In this exclusive Q&A, we get to learn more about the success of AR Workshop’s pandemic pivot from its co-founder and CEO, Maureen Anders.
Franchise Chatter (FC): Welcome, Maureen. For those who aren’t familiar, can you please share a bit of background on the AR Workshop concept?
Maureen Anders (MA): Sure thing – This entire brand story started just about a decade ago when I met my business partner at a preschool open house. My background is in engineering, but I had moved away from the industry while my children were young. That’s when I ran into Adria Ruff, who was new to the area but just as interested in art, design and entrepreneurship as I was.
After going back and forth – and barely knowing each other – we decided to launch a business focused on our hobbies. We named it Anders Ruff and poured our hearts and souls into the business. It started as an e-commerce site with custom stationery and slowly grew to be filled with custom design work before growing even more into a robust site and blog, where customers could browse, shop and get inspired.
As we continued to expand throughout the years, we’ve worked on projects for Sony, Universal Studios, George Clooney and more – a true whirlwind in the best way. After gaining a large and loyal following, we started to hear through the grapevine that our customers were craving a brick and mortar workshop where they could be guided through hands-on DIY projects in-person. So, we got to work on building out AR Workshop with the first shop debuting in Charlotte, North Carolina in 2016.
Up to this point, brand growth has been largely by word of mouth – in fact my friend and roommate from college launched our first franchise in my hometown of Michigan. Now, we have around 150 franchise locations across the nation.
FC: What sets AR Workshop apart from other concepts in the DIY space?
MA: While paint and sip concepts are loads of fun, that wasn’t what I set out to create – I wanted our customers to be able to fully customize their project and experience. Projects can be anything from a wood sign, to a knit blanket, to table trays – all made and sourced from raw materials.
The projects we offer are carefully curated and designed by our team so that our customers will leave feeling empowered by building something from scratch that is truly their own. Many people are shocked when they walk in and see raw materials waiting for them at their work stations rather than a fully put together piece waiting for final details.
Workshops here are fun and thorough, lasting anywhere from two to three hours depending on the project. Our facilities are designed to inspire from the moment anyone walks through the doors. We have both a lounge area and a retail shop for people to spend time in before and after their session. And, to make each location truly unique to its community, local artists are regularly featured and able to showcase and sell their work in our stores.
Our concept is incredibly flexible for franchisees as they have the ability to create their own schedules, working around when workshops are being held and more. While we have multiple revenue streams in place for franchisees to utilize, we’re always open to new ideas on how to improve and often brainstorm with our tight-knit network of franchisees.
Our owners also have a well-established brand with strong connections behind them. Our leadership is always looking for ways to grow our brand and put it in front of new customers, and our franchisees stand to benefit from that expansive brand recognition.
FC: Shifting gears to chatting about business during the pandemic – What changes did AR Workshop have to make?
MA: I don’t think I’m alone in saying that we weren’t prepared for a global pandemic this year. To keep everyone safe, mandatory shutdowns were put in place in markets throughout the country for nonessential businesses. It became clear that we had to get creative and very quickly. We decided to lean into the fact that so many people were forced to spend more time at home.
What better way to curb boredom than a DIY project, which is how we developed the concept for DIY-To-Go Kits. Customers are able to choose (and individualize) the type of project they’d like to complete and order the kits online. We developed this leg of the business all within 48 hours of the shutdown.
The next course of action was to roll this out across all 150 locations so that our franchisees could still generate revenue while their doors were closed. As a team, we mapped out the web development to make this possible and finished it in record time. To roll out, we held a zoom meeting with the owners to discuss how this would work. It evolved quickly as we perfected the process and the web ordering platform.
To date, we’ve sold over 45,000 kits. In fact, the day we debuted the kits online, it was our second highest day in sales volume as a company. Now, our kits account for 20% of total revenue and are a permanent fixture on our site even though all of our shops are now open and operating again.
The DIY-To-Go kits are a great way to expose our offerings to new customers and clientele around the globe as we work to expand into new states looking ahead to 2021. Building upon that, we are also exploring national brand partnerships in order to be able to sell our kits elsewhere so that they’re even more accessible. We were fortunate to have turned this pandemic pivot into an impressive additional stream of revenue.
FC: Have you had to make any changes to AR Workshop’s growth strategy?
MA: We set out this year with a clear and aggressive strategy in place to take our brand to new heights. Part of that plan is to expand into new markets, like Austin, TX; Grand Rapids, MI; Boston, MA; and Chicago, IL. So far, we’ve opened 13 shops this year, but have an overall plan to ramp up growth in Q4 to end the year strong with six additional openings.
We’re pinpointing densely populated suburban regions for site selection and are focused on partnering with community leaders that have a passion for both DIY and entrepreneurship. It’s all part of a larger goal to have 300 AR Workshop locations open by 2025.
FC: What is the typical investment to open an AR Workshop franchise?
MA: The up-front investment ranges anywhere from $70,000 to $125,000 depending on the size of the location and your market. We also offer discounts to military veterans.
FC: How can people learn more about AR Workshop if they’re interested in franchising?
MA: People can learn more about our franchise opportunities by visiting https://arworkshopfranchising.com/.